Keepsake

The necklace had been his father’s. He always had a different story about where the tooth came from: he’d plucked it from the mouth of a Great White circling his diving cage, a mysterious old woman gave it to him when he was in Hawaii, he’d found it on the beach the day he first met Ceasar’s mother. When he got to this story Ceasar’s mother would punch him playfully in the shoulder and tell her son that the necklace was from a souvenir stand they visited on their third date. Ceasar thought they were all pretty good versions, but he liked the shark-diving one the best. When he told it his father would mime the shark, circling and gnashing his teeth, and Ceasar would laugh and laugh.

The first time Ceasar’s father took him surfing, he lifted the necklace from his own neck and placed it around his son’s. “You should wear it,” he said, ruffling Ceasar’s hair, “so Dakuwaqa will protect you. I’d feel better.”

Ceasar’s fist closed around the tooth and he smiled that small, private smile so like his mother’s. Later he would find out that Dakuwaqa was a couple of jerks, but for now he took his father’s hand and walked down to the water and the waves.

The tooth was always a conversation starter. Ceasar found himself making up his own stories about it: a trophy from a shark attack he’d fended off, a gift from a Polynesian medicine man, a fossil he’d found on an archaeological dig one summer. When he was twelve years old the last story netted him his first girlfriend. They hugged a number of times and almost kissed once and broke up three weeks later.

A few years later, holed up in Ceasar’s room with a bag full of Doritos and a case of non-alcoholic beer, Ice asked him about the tooth. “Some tourist stand at the beach?” he asked, one arm slung around Ceasar’s shoulders, his free hand prodding the necklace. “Or did you wrestle a shark for it?”

Ceasar sipped at his foul fake beer and thought for a moment. “It was a gift from my dad,” he admitted. “I don’t know where he got it.”

Ice nodded and munched on some chips and sipped at his beer. A few minutes later they kissed. Ice tasted like nacho cheese. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

The next evening Ceasar called his father. He twirled the cord on the heavy, ancient phone, something out of the eighties for certain. “What did the old woman tell you when she gave you the tooth?” he asked.

Ceasar heard his father laugh softly over the phone. “She said it would lead me to my true love,” he said, the answer he gave most often. “Works pretty well, doesn’t it?”

There was no answer on the other end of the line, but Ceasar’s father was pretty sure he could hear his son smile that small, private smile so like his mother’s.

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